REVIEW BY CARY GINELL
When you look at the track record for I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, 5003 performances during a 12-year run, you begin to wonder what made this little revue, consisting of songs and skits about love, marriage, and relationships so durable. Then you notice that it not only was a hit Off-Broadway (it’s the sixth-longest running Off-Broadway show in history, despite publicity saying it is second), but has been translated into 17 languages in regions as far away as Scandinavia and East Asia. The humorous vignettes concerning the ever-present battle between man and woman are universal in their scope and relevant no matter what culture sees it. Elite Theatre Company’s current production utilizes a versatile cast of four to present the show, whose tagline is “Everything you have ever secretly thought about dating, romance, marriage, lovers, husbands, wives, and in-laws, but were afraid to admit.”
The show is a musical revue, with songs by Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts, that takes a chronological trajectory through the history of couples’ lives, from awkward first dates to funerals. Director Erin Fagundes has made the task easy on herself by utilizing the talents of four amazing performers who have been familiar on Ventura County stages for the past decade. The quartet: Daniel Jared Hersh, Janelle Phaneuf, Courtney Potter, and David White, are paired up into two couples to represent each story, beginning with the “Cantata For a First Date,” in which the “busy, busy, busy” Potter and White have such cluttered lives, they don’t have time to wade through the angst of a first date…or a second, or a third. As a result, they end up zipping through their entire relationship in one sitting, taking major shortcuts along the way to save time.
Some of the songs and stories work better than others, but what is remarkable about this production is the split-second comic timing and succinct chemistry the four performers exhibit, which keeps the comic engine humming along. Daniel Jared Hersh is, simply put, one of the most talented character actors on the local scene. He’s best when playing angst-ridden characters, sort of like a Rick Moranis who can sing. Whether it’s as a nerdy self-doubter on his first date or as an over-bearing father meeting his son’s girlfriend for the first time, Hersh consistently creates unique, funny characters, amplifying the comedy with a distinctive knack for physical slapstick.
Courtney Potter is a brilliant character actress who can turn on a dime. When playing the mom in a family of four (“The Family That Drives Together”), she adopts a perfect New York accent that makes one think of Valerie Harper’s Rhoda Morgenstern persona; she then gives a perfectly nuanced, poignant monolog as Rose Ritz, a lonely divorcée.
A highlight of Janelle Phaneuf’s performance is her sweet vocal solo on “I Will Be Loved Tonight,” as well as her scene with Hersh in “A Stud and a Babe,” in which the two engage in uncomfortable small talk before realizing they are far from flawless individuals.
The lanky David White provides a great visual contrast to the compact Hersh in the more physical segments, but his best scene is as an unctuous television pitchman who is a near-perfect replica of Vince Offer, the Sham-Wow guy on direct response TV commercials. White is also great as a menacing lifer working as a motivational speaker who counsels a terrified single, played by Hersh.
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change opened in 1996, and by the time it closed twelve years later, many of the references in the original script had become dated. Fagundes made sure to tweak some of these to make the show relevant to 2016 audiences, including mentions of contemporary technology (cellphones and email), and in one brilliantly moving scene, a nod towards LGBT rights as Hersh sings the tender “Shouldn’t I Be Less in Love With You” to his sleeping partner, played by White.
Despite these few changes, the show remains extraordinarily relevant after twenty years. Although it often features a multitude of actors (as many as forty have been cast in the show), Elite’s production proves that, hectic as it is, the show works best with an ensemble of four.
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is engaging, funny, and musically enjoyable light entertainment for adult audiences only.
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change plays through March 27 at the Elite Theatre Company in Oxnard. For dates and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar.